MP Steve Barclay says visit of communities minister Greg Clark to Wisbech could be a ‘game changer’ in £100m bid to re-open rail line

Integration Wisbech. Norfolk Street. Picture: Steve Williams.

Integration Wisbech. Norfolk Street. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

MP Steve Barclay hailed the visit to Wisbech today of local communities minister Greg Clark a possible ‘game changer’ in support of his six year fight to re-open the rail line to March and into Cambridge.

MP Steve Barclay at Manea railway station when it celebrated increase passenger numbers

MP Steve Barclay at Manea railway station when it celebrated increase passenger numbers - Credit: Archant

“For years people refused to take the reopening of this line as a realistic possibility, frequently telling me it would never happen,” said the MP for NE Cambs.

“Now we have cabinet ministers taking it seriously enough to visit in person.”

Mr Clark’s two hour visit has been arranged at short notice but long enough for his hosts, Fenland District Council, to bring together many of those involved in the bid to create ‘garden town’ status for the town.

The council is a key partner in ambitious plans to build 10,000 extra homes in the town, an enterprise zone, and schools and drive forward the projected £100million cost of re-opening the Wisbech to March rail line.

John Clark

John Clark - Credit: Archant

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Mr Barclay said: “The visit of the Secretary of State to Wisbech reflects the increased profile amongst senior ministers of the Wisbech to Cambridge rail re-opening, and the housing and regeneration opportunities this offers.

“Together with the study by Network Rail into level crossings on the rail line which is due to report in the next few weeks, the opportunity for Greg to see the town and the potential offered by the rail re-opening first hand marks an important step forward in making this game changer a reality.”

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Fenland Council leader John Clark said the ministerial visit “is the latest clear sign that the town is now firmly on the map, not only in this region but nationally, too.

“His visit gives us a great opportunity to outline what has already been achieved through the Wisbech 2020 Vision project and to explain how we and our partners are now looking to build on that.

“We will be highlighting everything that the garden town proposal offers both in terms of improving the quality of life and opportunities for people in Wisbech and in helping to meet the Government’s own targets on housing growth and economic growth generally.”

Cllr Clark said: “We’ll be stressing that the success of the proposal depends crucially on a commitment from central Government and other partners to providing very significant investment, particularly in delivering the rail link from Wisbech through to Cambridge and the major improvements needed on the A47.

“Potentially everyone stands to gain from the proposal. That’s the message we hope he will take away with him.”

Mr Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will meet local councillors and business leaders to see how the garden town proposals are taking shape and to advise on its progress.

Paul Medd, chief executive of Fenland Council, said: “The purpose of the visit is to showcase the Wisbech garden town concept, associated infrastructure requirements, and how this will contribute towards the further regeneration of the town.”

Among those invited to meet the minister will be John Foster, who bought the old courthouse and is planning major investment in the town. In 2013 Mr Foster sold his property maintenance in a multi million pound. Mr Foster is expected to fly back early from his holiday home in France to meet the minister.

Anglian Water, too, will be represented at the meeting with the minister – the company has been a leading player in the Wisbech 2020 Vision and has pioneered many local initiatives to help with training and infrastructure improvements.

Mr Clark is likely to be questioned on how the devolution bid for East Anglia aligns with the garden town proposals. When Fenland Council announced the garden town earlier this year no mention was made of a link with East Anglian devolution but the two have since been inexorably entwined – get one and you get the other, too.

Last week Cambridgeshire County Council rejected devolution in its current form and Fenland Council will debate devolution on May 12.

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